Here's what the Iverson Movie Ranch obsession is all about ...

For an introduction to this blog and to the obsession a growing number of vintage film and TV fans have with the Iverson Movie Ranch — the most widely filmed outdoor location in movie and TV history — please read the site's introductory post, found here.
• Your feedback is appreciated — please leave comments on any of the posts.
• To find specific rock features or look up movie titles, TV shows, actors and production people, see the "LABELS" section — the long alphabetical listing on the right side of the page, below.
• To join the MAILING LIST, send me an email at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com and let me know you'd like to sign up.
• I've also begun a YouTube channel for Iverson Movie Ranch clips and other movie location videos, which you can get to by clicking here.
• Here's a link to Garden of the Gods, the best-known section of the Iverson Movie Ranch (featured in the movie "Stagecoach," the "Lone Ranger" TV show and hundreds of other productions).
• To go right to the great Iverson cinematographers, click here.
• Readers can email the webmaster at iversonmovieranch@gmail.com.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Introducing a new theory of Evolution


Remember when fish sprouted legs and climbed out of the water, setting up housekeeping on dry land? Of course not, and neither do I. No one does. It was a long time ago. But maybe you read about it.


Regardless of whether Darwin got it right, Darwin, too, was a long time ago, and as his critics like to point out, it's "only a theory." At any rate, here's a shot of Charlie out walking his fish.

Nowadays reality depends on one's point of view — and especially on whichever peculiar flavor of ideology ... science, religion, whimsy, whatever ... one has a stake in trying to protect. But on a recent foray into the celluloid fossil record left behind by ancient movie makers, I spotted a rock that reminded me so much of one of those walking fish, I started calling it "Evolution."

"Adventures of Captain Marvel" (1941)

Feast your eyes on Evolution, just above the center of the frame. This beauty turned up in the old Republic serial "Adventures of Captain Marvel," in a sequence set in the Upper Gorge on the old Iverson Movie Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif. Maybe you see it and maybe you don't, but what I see is a fairly literal depiction of Darwin's walking fish, formed out of solid rock.

This is the critter I'm talking about, pretty much staring at you — eyeball to eyeball. Don't blink. Or do — it might help.

"Evolution," as seen in "Adventures of Captain Marvel"

How about a zoomed-in version? I see gills, fins ... maybe even teeth — not to mention an almost fully formed leg. Of course, none of this proves a dagnabbed thing, as an old geezer might say in an old B-Western. So I would hope nobody feels threatened or offended or otherwise violated right about now. To me it's all just a part of the beauty and weirdness that is old movie rocks.

With that in mind, here's a breakdown of the environment in which we find Evolution, the movie rock. The above version of the "Captain Marvel" shot pinpoints a few of its neighbors and some additional features. I'll go into more detail about these features below. In the foreground is the plateau above Iverson Gorge, which today is filled with condos. The shot looks more or less toward the south — you might call it south by southwest — with Elders Peak some distance away, across Santa Susana Pass Road and above Chatsworth Park.

"The Lives of a Bengal Lancer" (1935)

The "Split Roof" feature is hard to see in the "Captain Marvel" shot, but it also turns up in other movies and TV shows. While the feature is part of the larger rock formation Evolution, it's worth identifying separately because it appears in shots where there's no way Evolution itself could be seen. Evolution is one of those rocks that has to be viewed from a precise angle or it doesn't work. In this shot, Split Roof is in the top left corner, immediately to the left of the tower.

Here's the same shot, pinpointing the location of Split Roof. The shot comes from Paramount's Oscar-winning war movie "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer," which starred Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone. A major set was built in Iverson's Upper Gorge for the movie, part of which is seen in this shot.

A couple of other features of the Iverson Gorge are worth pointing out here too, as noted above. Wyatt Earp Rock was the subject of a recent post, which you can read by clicking here. Nyoka Cliff, seen in the background here, is one of the best-known of the Iverson Movie Ranch rock features, and has appeared many times in this blog. You can find it in the long index at the right of this page, or click here to see a compilation of posts about it.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1958)

The above shot from the "Wyatt Earp" TV show provides a better look at the Split Roof rock feature. The shot comes from the episode titled "One," which aired toward the end of season three, premiering April 15, 1958. Split Roof can be seen near the top of the frame, toward the right — directly above the head of the middle rider.

This version of the "Wyatt Earp" shot pinpoints Split Roof.

Split Roof in its contemporary setting

The Split Roof feature can still be found on the former Iverson Movie Ranch. That's it in the above shot from a 2014 visit to the site. The tree that appears near the center of the shot and partially blocks the view of Split Roof can also be seen in the "Wyatt Earp" shot above this one.

In this closer view of Split Roof, you can see that it's above and behind a couple of distinctive angular rocks.

Take another look at those angular rocks.

"Adventures of Captain Marvel" (1941) — Angular rocks noted

Those same angular rocks can be seen in the original "Adventures of Captain Marvel" screen shot. They're hidden in shadows here, but if you look closely you should be able to make them out. The angular rock on the left forms what might be called the "leg" of the walking fish, if you look at it that way.

The rock formation Evolution, now mostly hidden behind foliage

If you're playing along at home, you may have already put this together: If Split Roof is still in place, and Split Roof was a part of the larger rock feature Evolution ... and if the Angular Rocks are still in place, and one of them formed the "leg" of the movie rock Evolution ... then that means Evolution is still in place. And yes, it is, although you would never recognize it. That's it in the above photo. These days it's mostly hidden behind foliage — especially that same tree from the "Wyatt Earp" era. About all that can be seen of Evolution today is the Split Roof part of the rock — along with the Angular Rocks below it.

However, you can also make out two distinctive vertical cracks, which are also seen in the 1941 "Captain Marvel" screen shot. The camera angles make the recent shot of those vertical cracks appear closer to parallel than in the 1941 shot, but it's clearly the same two vertical cracks.

Here are those same vertical cracks as seen in the 1941 screen shot, where the camera position makes them appear as though they're oriented at an angle toward each other rather than close to parallel, as they appear in the recent shots. The crack on the left looks to me like the fish's "gill."

Cal West Townhomes — the Football appears in the background

As for the Football, Evolution's neighbor to the northeast, with its trademark grass insert, it's also alive and well — and much easier to find than Evolution. These days the Football is a part of the backdrop for the Cal West Townhomes condo complex.

This shot pinpoints the current location of the Football.

A closer look at the Football as it appears today shows that the grass insert can still be seen in all its detail.

This shot identifies the grass insert that remains a trademark of the movie rock the Football. The shot also points out another famous movie rock, Hole in the Wall.

"Zane Grey Theatre" (1956)

Here's a shot that includes the Football and the grass insert in the background, taken from an episode of the Western TV series "Zane Grey Theatre" called "Vengeance Canyon," which premiered Nov. 30, 1956 on CBS. That's a blurry Walter Brennan in the middle of the shot, punching some guy.

This version of the "Zane Grey" shot points out the key features. I like how the actors are blurry in the shot but the rock features remain relatively clear — almost as if the director told the camera guy, "Make sure that grass insert stays in focus."

"The Lone Ranger" TV show (1949)

The truth is the grass insert almost always WAS in focus, as another TV shot, this one from "The Lone Ranger," illustrates. The shot comes from the episode "War Horse," which aired early in the show's first season, premiering Oct. 20, 1949. The grass insert is a little harder to find in this shot, but it's there if you know where to look.

It helped that rocks — and patches of grass — don't move much, meaning they stood a better chance of remaining in focus — as long as the camera didn't move. From a research standpoint, it helps that rock features — and in particular, the ever-reliable grass insert — still look about the same many decades later.

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1958)

Sometimes the grass insert is the only way to identify the location for a particular shot, as in the above example from an episode of the "Wyatt Earp" TV series called "Two," which first aired April 29, 1958 — part of the same series of shows as the episode "One," which is featured higher up in this post. In this shot the Football and the grass insert can be seen near the right edge of the frame.

Here's the same shot with the grass insert highlighted. This little patch of grass has been a reliable landmark throughout my Iverson Movie Ranch research.

Recent shot of the Football and the grass insert

This shot from recent years offers a good look at the movie rock the Football, along with its distinctive grass insert.

Another shot from a recent visit to Iverson offers a hint as to why Hole in the Wall has that name — and this shot also provides nice detail on the grass insert, seen in the foreground.

Here's that same recent shot with the Hole in the Wall and the grass insert identified.

"Oklahoma Justice" (1951)

This shot from the Monogram B-Western "Oklahoma Justice," starring Johnny Mack Brown, showcases a lost and lamented movie rock known as Overhang Rock, in the foreground at the right. But it also ties together many of the rock features we've been examining in this post — features that remain in place today at the site, including the Football, with its grass insert, Evolution, with its Split Roof, and the Angular Rocks below the Split Roof.

Here's the "Oklahoma Justice" shot with a number of the rock features identified. It's worth noting that while Overhang Rock was a casualty of the development of the Cal West Townhomes, all of the other features noted here — the Football, Evolution and the Angular Rocks — have survived and can still be found at the site today.

So will we ever again see a fish sprout legs and walk? How about this for a new theory of Evolution: If we could strip away that tree that's blocking the view, and if we could get a camera into just the right position, we might be able to re-create this weird view of a "walking fish" from 1941 ... but maybe it's something that's better left to our imaginations.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Check out this lineup of Wild West legends on the Iverson Movie Ranch

"The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1957)

A coalition of legendary frontier lawmen and outlaws came together on the Iverson Movie Ranch for the final episode of season two of "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," which premiered June 4, 1957. The episode, titled "The Time for All Good Men," played out almost entirely in and around Iverson's Hangover Shack, which appears as the "Stony Wells roadhouse" in the episode.

Standing in front of the Hangover Shack in the screen shot above, left to right, are Mannen Clements (played by Kem Dibbs), Wyatt Earp (Hugh O'Brian), Doc Holliday (Douglas Fowler), John Wesley Hardin (Phillip Pine), Bat Masterson (Mason Alan Dinehart), Clay Allison (Mike Ragan) and Ben Thompson (Denver Pyle).

All of the men depicted in this shot are real figures of the American West. Here's what they looked like in real life:

Mannen Clements

Wyatt Earp, left, and Doc Holliday

John Wesley Hardin, left, and Bat Masterson

Clay Allison, left, and Ben Thompson

"The Time for All Good Men" ("The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp")

In the shootout at the Hangover Shack, the lineup of Wild West legends was pitted against this bunch — along with about 20 other baddies. Before help arrived they had Wyatt pinned down in the shack and it was 30 against 1. But after a number of their cronies were gunned down, this crew decided to give up the fight.

Grant Withers, left, and Richard Devon

The leader of the mob trying to do in Wyatt Earp is played by Richard Devon, seen at the right, lurking behind a rock near the Hangover Shack, along with his second-in-command, played by Grant Withers.

"The Saga of the Viking Women" (1957) — Richard Devon

Devon also played the lead heavy that same year, 1957, in the Roger Corman movie "The Saga of the Viking Women," which filmed extensively on the Lower Iverson. In the above screen shot from the movie he appears just outside the southern entrance to Devil's Doorway.

Hangover Shack — "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" (1957)

The Hangover Shack was the single most durable manmade set at Iverson, standing in some form from about 1939 to at least 1996. It began life behind the large rock now known as the Phantom, in Garden of the Gods, before being moved in about 1945 to its more familiar location up behind Nyoka Cliff. It wasn't the fanciest set around, and often appeared as a rundown shack. You can see a brief video clip of the shack in the movie "Cripple Creek" by clicking here.


The TV show "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" went on to a six-season run on ABC from 1955-1961, chalking up a number of noteworthy Iverson Movie Ranch location shoots along the way.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Taking the "then and now" shot to the next level

"The Fighting Legion" (1930) — Lone Pine, Calif.

I recently discovered the work of film historian and documentary photographer Jerry Condit, whose re-creations of movie location shots elevate the concept of the "then and now" photo to an art form.

Lone Pine, Calif. — photographed in 2009 by Jerry Condit

The above example of Jerry's work showcases one of his favorite filming locations, the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, Calif. His photo re-creates the shot from "The Fighting Legion" so closely it's hard to tell them apart, as even the shadows are virtually identical. The main difference between the two photos is the presence of horses and riders in the movie shot, which also brings out the imposing scale of the rocky landscape. The two shots are taken almost 80 years apart.

Some of Jerry's photos stand alone — that is, they're not movie re-creations, but scenic shots in their own right, such as the above photo he snapped recently of Iverson's Hawk Rock against a dramatic Chatsworth sky. I recommend clicking on any of these photos to see a larger version.

"Old Yeller" (1957) — Garden of the Gods

Did you cry over "Old Yeller"? Who didn't! In a certain age bracket it's the most remembered childhood movie for a lot of us kids. Parts of the Disney tearjerker were shot at the Iverson Movie Ranch, including the above scene in which Yeller runs through Iverson's Garden of the Gods. I love the way this shot projects how formidable those rock formations are.

The same location photographed in 2014 by Jerry Condit

Still formidable — and pretty much unchanged — more than a half-century later.

"Man in the Saddle" (1951)

Here's a shot taken in almost the same spot as the "Old Yeller" shot, but this one is from the Columbia Western "Man in the Saddle." The all-star cast in the above shot includes, from left, Randolph Scott, Ellen Drew and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams. The guy with his back to the camera is Cameron Mitchell.

The campfire site in 2014 (photo by Jerry Condit)

This is a recent shot of the site where the "Man in the Saddle" campfire scene took place, again in Garden of the Gods on the former Iverson Movie Ranch. The rock in the top left corner with the prominent crack is Mitchum Rock, named after the Robert Mitchum film noir "The Big Steal," in which Mitchum and Jane Greer take shelter behind the rock during a shootout. You can read more about Mitchum Rock and "The Big Steal" by clicking here.

"Saga of the Viking Women" (1957)
 
The original title of this movie, produced and directed by Roger Corman, is considerably longer: "The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent." The title has been shortened in a variety of ways in connection with various releases of the movie, but under any title, the movie is strongly recommended both for its terrific Iverson location shots and because it's a fun movie.

The Viking whipping sequence takes place in central Garden of the Gods, a short distance from the "Man in the Saddle" campsite. Here's the same spot, Viking Whipping Rock, as it appears today, again photographed by Jerry Condit. I have a couple of earlier blog entries about the "Viking Women" movie — including my own attempt at a "then and now" shot for the whipping sequence — which you can find by clicking here.

"Bonanza" episode "The Dowry" (first aired April 29, 1962)

The Iverson Movie Ranch poses more than its share of challenges when it comes to re-creating movie and TV shots. The place has changed a lot since the filming days, and whether it's a condo or an overgrown bush in the way — or a rock or tree that's simply not there anymore — it's often impossible to get the same angle. For the above "Bonanza" scene, filmed on the South Rim of the Upper Iverson, duplicating the angle would have required a scaffold — or at least a good ladder.

The Slates as they appear today, in a 2014 photo by Jerry Condit

But the site is easily identified, even from a slightly lower angle. Looking at this recent photo I sometimes think I still see that rutted road running straight through the middle of the shot, between the two major rock formations.

The two main rocks seen in the "Bonanza" shot and the recent shot are identified above. You can find out why the Tomb has that name by clicking here. This portion of the South Rim remains relatively intact, but other sections have been drastically altered as the native terrain was replaced by large estates.

Bell Location Ranch, in the hills west of Chatsworth

The shoot for the above lobby card for the 1957 Columbia B-Western "Sierra Stranger" took place at Bell Ranch, west of Chatsworth and south of Santa Susana Pass Road off Box Canyon — a few miles southwest of the Iverson Movie Ranch.

Here's a promo still for the movie that uses the same photo as the lobby card, but in the original black and white.

The same location in 2014

Jerry Condit took this photo on a recent trip to Bell Ranch. You can probably see right away that it's all the exact same rocks seen in the promo shot, along with the same road in the foreground.

"Cripple Creek" (1952) — the Upper Iverson Movie Ranch

The above promo still for the Columbia B-Western "Cripple Creek" comes from the collection of location researcher and Western movie expert Jerry England. The scene is shot on the South Rim of the Upper Iverson, where a water feature was brought into play especially for this production. I've blogged before about this water feature, which I call the Reflecting Pool. You can see a brief video of this sequence — which included a waterfall — and read more about the Reflecting Pool, by clicking here. That blog post also includes another clip from "Cripple Creek."

The same site in 2014, photographed by Jerry Condit

Other than the absence of the water feature, the "Cripple Creek" site remains virtually unchanged, as seen in Jerry Condit's recent photo. Inspired in large part by these "then and now" shots, I was able to nail down a few details about the Reflecting Pool — notably that it had an "extended version" that brought it closer to Wrench Rock, as seen in "Cripple Creek." I previously spotted this extended Reflecting Pool in an episode of the "Annie Oakley" TV show from 1956, as seen in this earlier blog entry, but the "Cripple Creek" sequence adds perspective on the Reflecting Pool, the extended Reflecting Pool and the waterfall.


Above are some links to Amazon.com, where you can find DVD, Blu-ray and streaming versions of a number of the productions featured in this post. I can personally recommend the Roger Corman double feature 'Viking Women and the Sea Serpent" and "Teenage Caveman," with both movies having filmed at Iverson and "Teenage Caveman" featuring the Reflecting Pool. It's the same DVD set I used for my shot of the Viking whipping scene that appears in this post. Also note that the "Bonanza" Season 3 set includes the episode "The Dowry," which is featured above.